Agency doctor: get yourself a winning team

If your agency has ambitions to be one of PRWeek's Best Places to Work you will need to pay close attention to people management, recruitment strategies and staff development.

Richard Houghton is associate partner at Agency People
Richard Houghton is associate partner at Agency People

The two hours I spent with the winners of PRWeek’s Best Places to Work last month were fascinating and, like the best discussions, got me looking at my world slightly differently.

Clearly, the guys who were round the table know how to get the right people in the right jobs and hang on to them. But in my experience people issues are one of the biggest headaches for agency management.

By its very nature people management is an inexact science, but there are approaches that can be used to make sure you manage your biggest asset in a productive and profitable way.

If you are a manager that sees HR as a touchy-feely issue and not one that can be measured, then let me persuade you otherwise.

The professional recruitment, development and retention of your teams are all things that can be looked at in the same way as other management disciplines.

Recruitment can be measured by looking at the time to hire, or the total cost of getting the new recruit on board, or even average length of tenure.

Metrics can be assigned to the development of your people in the same way. Do you get 90 per cent-plus attendance at your training courses?

If not, why not? Maybe you are using the ‘sheep dip’ method and not everyone feels they need exactly the same course content.

When it comes to retention the statistics are even easier to identify. Is your year-on-year staff retention above 80 per cent but below 95 per cent? (I always think a bit of managed staff turnover is critical for a healthy agency.) What is your average length of tenure and does it fit with your objective?

You can even go further and start to monitor the number of sick days that are being taken across the agency. More than three a year on average and maybe you have an issue.

Attracting the right people

Once you have reviewed how you monitor your people management strategies it might be worth taking a look at how you go about things.

When it comes to successful recruitment there are a number of components to take into account. First, having a clear culture and reputation that you can articulate and demonstrate gives candidates something beyond the hard commercial package to consider.

Second, understand what is best for the role, the team, the agency and the client portfolio. It is unlikely that the traditional job description will do this unless it covers the knowledge, skills and behaviours that the successful candidate will possess.

Most agencies are adept at using a range of recruitment channels but an award-winning reputation works in your favour whether you are advertising, using LinkedIn or a recruitment agency. The selection process its self should work as both diagnostic and sales tool.

A winning combination is structured interviews, skills and knowledge testing, team discussions and reference checking. Lastly, making sure that the first 90 days for any new recruit are motivating and productive will get the relationship off to a winning start.

Getting the most out of your team

Once you have got the right people on the team you will need to develop them by inspiring their ambitions, upskilling them, engaging and involving them and recognising and rewarding their success, so here are a couple of thoughts from me on a topic that has been covered widely.

When you are looking to upskill a team member, consider the individual and what the desired outcome is before choosing the best approach. Training is fine, but personal coaching may be what is needed.

Either way, neither should be used as a reward but as part of performance management.

All of us have different levels of skill and will (motivation) at work.

Understanding what the levels of each team member are will allow you to support the individual in the most effective way.

By using the Skill Will matrix you can direct, guide, excite and stretch as required to get the most out of an individual or team.

Agencies that can retain the most motivated, productive staff tend to grow more quickly and drive better margins than average. Knowing which among your team are your ‘dynamos’, ‘cruisers’ and ‘losers’ gives you a real focus for your retention activities.

You will find that you spend most of your time on your ‘losers’ but if you can focus on shifting ten per cent of your ‘cruisers’ into ‘dynamos’ then the rewards will follow.

People are the heart of any successful agency but their management does not need to be anything other than commercially edged and there is nothing more rewarding than an office buzzing with motivated, creative people all working to achieve the same goal.

Richard Houghton is associate partner at Agency People

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